Verlorenvlei Estuary

Country/territory: South Africa

IBA Criteria met: A4i (1998)
For more information about IBA criteria please click here

Area: 1,700 ha

Protection status:

BirdLife South Africa
Most recent IBA monitoring assessment
Year of assessment Threat score (pressure) Condition score (state) Action score (response)
2012 high very unfavourable low
For more information about IBA monitoring please click here

Site description
Verlorenvlei is an estuary, fed by an intermittently flowing river, on the Atlantic Ocean, 3 km east of Elands Bay and 25 km south of Lambert’s Bay. It is connected to the sea via a shallow, narrow, 2.5-km-long channel, but a rocky sand-covered bar at the mouth and other artificial obstructions make Verlorenvlei a virtually closed system. Because of its intermittent connection with the ocean, Verlorenvlei can be regarded as a coastal lake and reed-swamp system. It is one of the largest natural wetlands along southern Africa’s west coast, and it is one of the few coastal freshwater lakes in South Africa.The lake is located north of a ridge of rugged hills with high krantzes near the sea. The main body of the lake is approximately 13.5 × 1.4 km, with an average depth of c.3 m and a maximum depth of c.4.5 m during the wet season. During winter the lake fills and overflows into the sea near Eland’s Bay, but during summer it gradually desiccates, reaching its lowest levels at the end of the dry season.

Large masses of filamentous green algae are common in the channel, where the water is often stagnant and hyper-saline. The vlei is dominated by aquatic vegetation, including Myriophyllum which, at times, occupies large areas, e.g. in the upper reaches below reedbeds. Marsh vegetation of Typha, Phragmites, Cyperus and Juncus is common and widespread on the fringes of the lake. The terrestrial vegetation surrounding the vlei is transitional between karroid and fynbos vegetation, resulting in a high diversity of ecotonal communities.

Key biodiversity
See Box for key species. Verlorenvlei supports over 189 bird species, of which 75 are waterbirds. The wetland regularly supports over 5,000 birds and occasionally it holds over 20,000, including more than 1,000 waders of at least 11 different species. Most importantly, the area is a moulting ground and summer refuge for ducks (Anatidae), and it regularly supports extremely large numbers of Anas undulata, A. smithii and Tadorna cana. Large numbers of Podiceps cristatus, Fulica cristata, Larus hartlaubii and Phalacrocorax carbo are also supported. There is a high density of Circus ranivorus, which forage over the marsh and reedbank areas. Haematopus moquini and Charadrius pallidus are recorded at the estuary mouth from time to time. The palustrine habitats are diverse and rich and hold populations of secretive rails (Rallidae), including large numbers of Sarothrura rufa, Rallus caerulescens and Porzana pusilla. The diverse ecotonal terrestrial vegetation around Verlorenvlei’s fringes supports several restricted-range and/or biome-restricted species, including the recently described Certhilauda curvirostris (see account for IBA ZA023).

Non-bird biodiversity: Rare plants include Ferraria foliosa, F. densepunctulata, Cerycium venoum (presumed extinct) and Cullumia floccosa. The fish Barbus burgi (CR) has a global range restricted to the Verlorenvlei system and some of the upper catchment streams of the Berg river. Among reptiles, the IBA lies in the centre of the ranges of several Namaqualand endemics, most of which have been recorded in the vicinity and may be present in the succulent Karoo terrestrial vegetation surrounding the wetland: Homopus signatus, Bitis schneideri (VU), B. cornuta, Acontias litoralis, Typhlosaurus caecus, Scelotes sexlineatus, Meroles knoxii, Cordylus cataphractus (VU), C. macropholis, Gerrhosaurus typicus (LR/nt), Bradypodion occidentale and Pachydactylus austeni.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Verlorenvlei Estuary. Downloaded from on 07/03/2021.